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New bill would make it illegal for Vermonters to bring guns to the polls

Firearms in a storage locker.
Some Vermont lawmakers want to make it illegal to bring firearms to polling stations. Currently, the state has legislation against voter intimidation, but nothing that explicitly prohibits guns in the ballot box.

Some lawmakers and local elections officials want to make it illegal to bring a gun to a polling station in Vermont.

Thousands of Vermonters will head to their polling stations Tuesday to vote on town budgets, local ballot items and the presidential primary.

Williston Rep. Angela Arsenault has introduced a bill that would create a new misdemeanor crime for anyone caught possessing a gun at the ballot box in future elections.

“We have an opportunity now … to preserve Vermont’s tradition of exercising one of the most sacred of rights — to cast our ballots at the polls free from intimidation,” she said.

A recent national survey found that nearly half of all local elections workers are worried about the safety of their colleagues. Laura Subin, a board member for Gun Sense Vermont, said guns become even more problematic in an age where elections are held against the backdrop of extreme political polarization.

“The presence of firearms at polling sites not only elevates the risk of violence, but also serves to intimidate voters and election workers, undermining the very foundation of our democracy,” Subin said.

Montpelier City Councilor Cary Brown said Vermont already has a law against voter intimidation. But she said there’s no explicit prohibition against bringing a gun to the ballot box.

“The law needs to spell out that the common sense understanding is that many people will feel frightened and feel intimidated if they have to vote with people with guns around them,” Brown said.

Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, a prominent gun rights organization, said the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in 2021 that found states have the right to enact prohibitions on guns in “sensitive places.”

Those places include schools, legislative assemblies, courthouses and polling places. Bradley said that, as a result of that ruling, his organization doesn’t plan to mount any serious opposition to the provision.

“I hang my hat on the Supreme court, and when the Supreme Court issues a ruling, I have to accept it,” Bradley said. “Is it going to do anything? No.”

The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs is currently challenging the constitutionality of two other gun laws enacted by the Vermont Legislature — a 72 hour waiting period for gun purchases, and a ban on the sale or possession of magazines that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds for long guns and 15 rounds for handguns.

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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